Two opponents of a controversial hydro-electric project on Colombia's Río Cauca were slain by unknown assailants while they were working their fields in the riverside community pf El Pescadero, Puerto Valdivia municipality, Antioquia department, on May 8. Luis Alberto Torres Montoya and his brother Duvián Andrés Correa Sánchez were members of the Association of Artisanal Miners and Fishermen of Puerto Valdivia. Six days earlier, unidentified assailants killed Hugo Albeiro George Pérez, another community leader in Puerto Valdivia. All three were part of the Antioquia Ríos Vivos Movement that has publicly opposed construction of the Hidroituango project due to the environmental damage it has caused in the area, and had sought compensation for local families whose lands have been adversely impacted by the project. (Amnesty International, May 11; ¡Pacifista!, May 3)
Despite peace accords with the FARC guerillas, remnant right-wing paramilitary forces remain active across Colombia, and are escalating their reign of terror against indigenous and campesino communities. Several families have been displaced from the Afro-Colombian community of Juan Santos along the Río Naya (Cauca department) since an April 17 attack by a group of gunmen who abducted three residents. The families, numbering some 50 people, have taken refuge in nearby communities, fearing a new attack. (Prensa Rural, May 7)
Colombia’s voters on June 17 elected conservative Iván Duque as the country's president, handing a decisive defeat to leftist candidate Gustavo Petro in a run-off vote. Duque is political protege of ex-president Alvaro Urbe, a bitter opponent of the peace process with the former FARC guerillas, and campaigned on a pledge to revise the peace deal. A popular referendum on overturning the legislation that was passed to implement the peace deal has been broached. (Colombia Reports, Bogotá CIty Paper, Global Observatory, June 17)
In an April 6 decision being hailed as "historic," Colombia's Supreme Court of Jutsice ruled in favor of a group of 25 young people and children who brought suit against the state to demand it take measures to assure their right to inherit a healthy environment. They asserted that their future food security and access to water is threatened by continued deforestation in the Amazon and other ecological degradation. In its ruling, the court also noted Colombia's responsibilities on a global level to halt deforestation, as carbon dioxide releases from forest loss contribute to the greenhouse effect. The youth in the case were represented by lawyers from Colombia's Environmental Justice Network (Red por la Justicia Ambiental). (El Tiempo, April 8; Contagio Radio, April 6)
A state of emergency has been declared in Barrancabermeja, the oil hub on Colombia's Río Magdalena, following a rupture on a pipeline delivering crude to the city's refinery from wells in the municipality's rural area. The March 2 spill at the Lizama 158 well, run by parastatal Ecopetrol, contaminated local waterways that flow into the Magdalena, and which local campesino communities depend on. The affected area includes habitat for jaguars (listed as "near threatened" by the International Union for the Conservation of Natuire) and manatees ("vulnerable"). March 26 saw a protest outside the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development in Bogotá, demanding acountability in the disaster. Óscar Sampayo, Barrancabermeja organizer for the Fracking-Free Colombia Alliance, called it a "catastrophe of unequaled magnitude" in a long history of oil spills in the area, and said the impacts could last 30 years. The Fiscalía General, Colombia's attorney general, has opened an investigation to determine if there is criminal liability in the spill.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on March 27 issued a statement calling on the government of Colombia to "take urgent measures" to protect social leaders and human rights defenders in response to the wave of assassinations over recent months. The statement asserted that 22 rights defenders had been killed in Colombia in the first two months of the year, and over 100 more threatened with death. The assassinations come in an atmosphere of violence across much of the country's rural areas, with some 2,500 displaced in recent months. Just three days after the IACHR statement, on Good Friday, community leader and local rights advocate Belisario Benavides Ordóñez was slain by unknown gunmen on motorcycles as she was leaving her home accompanied by her two young children in the town of Rosas, Cauca department. Benavides was a leader of the Rosas Victims' Table, made up of local residents displaced by political violence over the past generation and now demanding restitution for lost lands and property. In a second case that same day, a community leader in Cauca's village of Corinto, Héctor Janer Latín, was slain in a road ambush while riding his motorcycle to an outlying hamlet. These attacks spurred renewed calls from the National Confederation of Communal Action (CNAC) for a response from the government and IACHR. (El Tiempo, April 2; El Colombiano, March 27)
Colombia's two guerilla groups that remain in arms pledged this week to open a dialogue with each other to bring their internecine conflict to an end. Fighting broke out weeks ago between the National Liberation Army (ELN) and its smaller rival, the Popular Revolutionary Army (EPL) in the northeastern Catatumbo region. William Villamizar, governor of Norte de Santander department, has declared a state of emergency over the violence, which he said has displaced some 1,000 families. The fighting is said to have begun as the two groups vied to take control of coca-growing lands vacated by the demobilized FARC guerillas. (Colombia Reports, April 24; BBC News, April 17; El Colombiano, April 9; El Tiempo, April 4)
The US Congress this week finalized a 2018 budget that maintains aid to Colombia at its 2017 level, $391 million—despite efforts by President Donald Trump to slash the amount. The package includes large sums for human rights training and aid to the displaced, with some advocates hailing it as a boost to Colombia's peace process. Continuance of this level of aid is "a huge support to peace accord implementation," according to Adam Isacson at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). The budget passed both House and Senate this week. Despite a previous veto threat, Trump signed the budget bill March 23, just in time to avoid yet another government shutdown. There have already been two brief shutdowns during the protracted fight over the budget. This budget authorizes spending through September. The Republican-controlled Congress firmly rejected not only Trump’s proposal to slash aid to Colombia, but his overall foreign policy goal of dramatically reducing aid throughout Latin America and the world, and significantly cutting the international diplomacy budget of the State Department.